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Santarém

Bishops’ Residenz

About Santarém

Founded by the Portuguese in 1661 in the Lower Amazon, Santarém lies at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the Brazilian state of Pará. Before Europeans arrived, the Tapajós Indians had a thriving agricultural society on these lands. The tribes have long disappeared, but their spirit lives on in the name of the Amazon tributary that flows through here.

Europeans started a Jesuit mission here to convert the ancient tribes. Later, a village was built around the fort built by explorer Pedro Teixeira, the first European to travel the entire length of the Amazon River. City status was granted to Santarém in 1848. Today, Santarém is one of the oldest colonial outposts in the Amazon basin, sitting about halfway between the riverside cities of Belém and Manaus.

The Santarém plateau, at 400 feet, is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the Amazon valley. Rice, beans and cassava are the major crops, while livestock, rosewood, oil, lumber and jute are also significant contributors to the local economy.

Santarém Lifestyle and Culture

Portuguese-flavored plazas, a waterfront promenade and shady parks characterize this charming Amazonian town. Natural treasures abound, such as the Meeting of the Waters near the main market square. Here you can see the sand-colored waters of the Amazon run alongside the blue-green water of the Tapajós as the two rivers begin to merge, a stunning phenomenon.

Much of Santarém is unspoiled, surrounded by dense rainforest, lush wetlands and scenic riverbanks. Many refer to the scenic area as the “Amazonian Caribbean” due to the 60 miles of pristine white-sand beaches that line the Tapajós. While a large city for the region, the pace is slow and laid back, reminiscent of days long past. Because of poor road conditions, its people rely heavily on the waterways for transport, and most nearby villages are only reachable by boat.

Santarém’s religious center is the stunning, powder-blue Cathedral of Our Lady, a colonial gem topped with two graceful towers. Its commercial center, the vibrant city market, overflows with produce from the surrounding countryside, with Tapajoara handicrafts and all manner of local wares.

Santarém Sights and Landmarks

The canary yellow Museu de Santarém (also known as the João Fona Cultural Center) is the town’s main museum and features artifacts from ancient Tapajoara tribes, providing a glimpse into Santarém’s long history and culture. Another worthy museum is the Museu Dica Frazão, founded by Dona Raimunda Rodrigues Frazão. It displays the beautiful fabric, clothing and accessories Frazão created from raw Amazon materials such as tree bark, grass, seeds and roots. Some of her creations became costumes for the elaborate Boi Bumbá festival in Parintins; the local designer even fashioned a dress for a Belgian queen.

The glorious Igreja Matriz (or Cathedral of Our Lady) is adorned with six stained-glass windows depicting Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul. A small art museum with pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries can also be found here.

Santarém Entertainment and Activities

As you might expect in the Amazon rainforest, the most stunning attractions around Santarém are the natural ones. Thick forests and sandy beaches line the riverbanks. Observers on the freshwater shores are likely to see families plying the waters in small boats, on their way to and from traditional caboclo communities.

Maica Lake is a nature lover’s paradise of countless birds, lush flora and freshwater dolphins. Visitors will have ample opportunity to fish for the Amazon’s infamous piranha. For a taste of virgin rainforest, visit Tapajós National Forest. The second largest conservation area in the Tapajós River watershed, this fertile area is a wealth of woodland biodiversity that includes tropical hardwoods, Brazil nut and rubber trees.

To see wildlife up close, visit the ZooFIT rehabilitation center, a menagerie of Amazon animals on the mend who will one day return to their river or forest home. Manatees, pumas, macaws and other creatures might be in residence when you visit.

For some in-town entertainment, take a stroll along the Tapajós riverfront. Stop for a drink at one of the bars along the way, or buy some nuts, chocolate and other locally grown and handmade snacks from one of the roving vendors.

Santarém Restaurants and Shopping

Manioc, or tapioca powder, is one of the Amazon’s local ingredients and can be found in dishes throughout Santarém. Locals and visitors alike find it at its most delicious as part of a crepe-like pancake often served as street food. In a similar style to French crepes, they’re served with a variety of sweet and savory fillings such as cheese, shredded beef, guava or coconut. Sample some at Mirante Tapiocaria & Crepiocaria, an outdoor kiosk on the plaza overlooking the river.

You may wish to reserve a table at Piracema, where the creative kichen uses regional ingredients and the freshest of fish for a unique taste of the Amazon. Order peixe á Piracema, a dish of smoked pirarucú (local fish), banana and cheese. Mascote has been a popular option since 1934, offering a varied menu of seafood, sandwiches, pizza and more. Dine inside with the cooling air conditioning, or outside on the patio with a river view.

For indigenous handicrafts, Loja Muiraquitã has a diverse selection of objects using local wood and other materials. Mercado Modelo is the city’s main market, located downtown across from the waterfront; here, you can peruse locally caught fish, produce and more. For arts, crafts and other souvenirs, a flea market is held right along the water on the shipping docks.